HOWIE SEE IT: Kamala and Leni

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

As the year comes to a close, 2020’s series of unfortunate events had a new chapter named Typhoon Ulysses. In the days following the subsiding of the floodwaters, Filipinos were once against asked to be resilient, in lieu of risk reduction or social amelioration programs – it seemed that our hope for recovery was tied to individuals who raised funds and called for donations for the victims. Indeed, it is in the darkest of times that the light of humanity seems to shine the brightest. However, one of the volunteers had her motivations brought under the scrutiny of the national spotlight.

While Vice President Leni Robredo attempted to coordinate with national agencies and willing individuals, it was the head of the Executive branch that assumed she had done so in an effort to compete with him. As his weekly tirade prioritized politically-motivated insults rather than relief programs, the families still picking up the pieces of their wrecked homes could only watch as their leader seemed to think the biggest crisis was the threat to his ego. Our duly-elected President used his immense influence to fabricate stories about his second-in-command and issue threats against any potential future campaign. Instead of issuing directives to the heads of national agencies that may assist in future risk management, or to thank the individuals who came out to support the Filipinos who lost everything, he used precious airtime to make lewd remarks and false claims.

What else would we expect from the populist leader who constantly resorts to ad hominem arguments? Civil discourse went out of the window in 2016, and one can only hope we will escape the echo chamber by 2022. Though the Office of the Presidency commands a certain level of respect, the one in the office has consistently denigrated it by peddling fake news and refusing to debate on merits, rather choosing personality politics. The latest attack on the Vice President has only shown that his anger towards her stems not from a refusal, but rather an inability, to match her leadership skills. If in the debate, the goal is not for your opponent to lose, but rather for your points to be substantiated, then how come we only hear about the alleged shortcomings of his adversaries and not the benefits of his programs? Even worse, his attacks on Leni came in the form of gendered insults, belittling half the population in the process.

Through the use of suggestive remarks about the Vice President’s love life, he attempted to shame her. For a person that often brags about his multiple girlfriends, and made light of his intimate desires, it seems awfully hypocritical that someone else who allegedly engages in a consensual, monogamous relationship should be insulted for it on a national stage. It appears to be that the only time romantic relationships (supposedly) speak volumes on one’s character is when his target is a woman.

The President’s comments on the Vice President’s (alleged) romantic relationships insinuated that it is something she should be degraded for. Juxtaposed with his own bragging of his numerous mistresses, it seems he believes that women should be shamed for their intimate relationships, while men should be celebrated. By directing this lewd speech towards a woman on live television, and especially one who should be afforded the respect of a Vice President, he has effectively normalized shaming women for their personal relationships. Haven’t we, a country that has had women presidents long before most of the Western world, moved past these attacks on women? Shouldn’t we also think of our mothers, sisters, and daughters before we embolden such views?

One would think that it is finally time for strong women to shine, and for young women all over the world to see themselves in the faces of world leaders. With Vice President Leni Robredo and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris taking center stage, it appeared that little girls -of all ethnicities- could see their faces reflected in high-ranking members of their country’s Executive branch. Considering that both the Philippine and US political scene is dominated by older men, the pivot towards leadership by younger women was long overdue. Though they were voted in for their achievements and platforms, one cannot deny that they have both made history on the basis of their gender.

For the next generation of women to gain confidence in their leadership abilities, and to contribute their insights in their respective fields, women that shattered the glass ceiling should be recognized. In politics, it is even more essential that they are properly represented, considering that gender-based legislation is often spearheaded by women. By seeing strong, capable, and intelligent ladies at the forefront of issues that matter to them, young girls will not feel like they are limited by their gender. It is that positive representation that gives the next generation of women the confidence to break down barriers.

What, then, do the little girls who see themselves as the next Vice President think when they hear lewd comments about the woman currently holding the position? Personally, I do not think they should believe that Leni’s leadership ability is connected in any way to her love life, lest they believe that their own capabilities are somehow diminished once they begin to date. We can no longer deny the attempts to push these incredible women leaders out of the table. In the White House, President Trump is refusing to concede and, in Malacañang, President Duterte resorts to public threats and falsehoods. The lack of harmony in the Executive branch only reflects poorly on the Presidents, for choosing to politicize the office and refusing to let the Vice Presidents do their job in service of their countries.

Perhaps President Duterte has heard the chant “Let Leni Lead”. While she certainly does not need anyone’s permission to do her job, the country could certainly “Heal As One” if the public attempts to undermined her finally stopped. Stoking division between “reds” and “yellows” never made for fruitful discourse and the ongoing attack on women is all the more telling of the leadership skills coming out of Malacañang.

On January 21 2021 Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will start her work as the new Vice President of the United States. In our case, Vice President Leni has been unapologetically doing her job for the past four years, and it is time that she is allowed to continue to do her job and serve the Filipino people without gendered insults.